A few thoughts from the early aftermath of the 2011 A-Day game:
- A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims fought to a draw in the much-ballyhooed quarterback race with both generally playing well while showing some room for improvement. For those keeping a scorecard at home, McCarron threw the deep ball outside the hash marks better and was more proficient with check downs to the backs, but Sims showed better poise in the pocket, a quicker release, and much better accuracy in the short-to-intermediate passing game. Sims struggled somewhat early, and McCarron's low completion percentage throughout the spring remains a concern, but in general both played at a relatively high level against one of the best defenses they will face all season and there is legitimate reason for optimism moving forward. The expectation for now seems to be that both players will see snaps in the first three games of the season, with one player likely emerging as the starter by the time conference play opens against Arkansas. My feeling is still that Sims will ultimately prevail, which was somewhat buttressed by his performance yesterday, but admittedly it looks to be a very close race and at least the staff is seemingly crafting a way to guarantee that both will remain on the roster throughout the 2011 season.
- Blake Sims was somewhat of a pleasant surprise as the number three quarterback. It was clear all along that his athleticism would allow for the staff to design a package around his raw physical ability, but he impressed yesterday with his arm strength and his development as a passer. While he will not challenge either A.J. McCarron or Phillip Sims for the starting job, his performance yesterday should provide some degree of comfort in the event that something sidelines both of the players ahead of him in the depth chart. In all honesty, he looked like a more athletic while slightly more raw version of Star Jackson, which is frankly a much better player than most teams have at third on the quarterback depth chart.
Trent Richardson played as well as expected, but the real story was behind him. Given the heavy reliance on Eddie Lacy and the fact that Demetrius Goode did not enter the game until the third quarter, it is clear that for all intents and purposes Lacy has won the back-up job. However, while Lacy looks great as a pure runner, he struggles in pass protection and is not a viable option to catch balls out of the backfield. That creates the opportunity -- read necessity -- for playing time for another back, and to that end Dee Hart was very impressive in his debut, especially with his touchdown scamper around right end against the first-team defense. Exactly how he fits in remains to be determined, but barring injury a redshirt should not be expected and it seems obvious that he has a role on this team somewhere. Jalston Fowler may find it more difficult to get playing time because there is no real need for the skill set he provides -- a big, bruising tailback who should excel in short-yardage situations -- but he too had a solid showing yesterday and can contribute if needed.
Barrett Jones had an impressive showing yesterday at left tackle. While he does not have the length you would ideally prefer at left tackle, he held his own against Courtney Upshaw -- likely the best edge rusher he will see all season -- and he displayed nimble footwork while bringing a power element to the running like you would expect out of a converted guard. The late move of Jones seems like a vote of no-confidence in Alfred McCullough and Aaron Douglas, and it seems very possible at this point that Jones may stick at tackle unless either Douglas significantly develops this summer or Cyrus Kouandjio can step in immediately as a starter. Either way, while Jones may not have the ideal length, given his performance on Saturday the left tackle position looks to be in good hands if he is tabbed the starter come September.
- The rest of the offensive line was somewhat of a mixed bag. Alfred McCullough spent most of the day at guard after competing all spring at left tackle, and while Anthony Steen had a good showing at right guard, the performance from William Vlachos and Chance Warmack was somewhat inconsistent at times. Aaron Douglas did not really stand out and needs to add more weight to be a force in the running game, but D.J. Fluker looked very good at right tackle and Arie Kouandjio stepped in seamlessly and played at a high level against the first team defense when Fluker left the game. Consistency on the interior needs to improve, but it's hard not to be bullish on this group moving forward, especially with Cyrus Kouandjio reporting in June.